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How I Caught the Exercise Bug

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How I Caught the Exercise Bug

My three-year-old put me to shame.
Joan Z. Borysenko Ph.D.
Joan Z. Borysenko Ph.D. More by this author
Nov 28, 2010 at 09:00 AM

When my kids were small, we lived in a rural area where the homes were spaced far apart. One day a neighbor banged on the door with news that the family down the road had just put out a kitchen fire. They had called her to mobilize help for the cleanup.

Since it was winter in New England, I threw on a coat and rushed out the door after my neighbor, who’d taken off at a steady jog. I tried to follow, but after a minute or two I was out of breath and puffing like a steam engine. Although I was just 30 years old, I felt ancient. Hunched over in the middle of the street with my hands on my thighs and gasping for breath, I had a come-to-Jesus moment. I realized that it was time to pay attention to my body, which, after all, was my only home.

That very night there was a show on public television about a woman in her 50s who had started to run a few years before and now jogged up to eight miles a day. Her transformation began by running to her mailbox and back, a distance of about a hundred yards. That didn’t seem so hard—I figured if she could do it, so could I.

The next morning my three-year-old son, Andrei, and I set out together and took off at a steady clip. A minute later, I was bushed and slowed down to a walk, while he continued to jog along unfazed. It was a tad demoralizing to be outdone by a three-year-old, but I figured he had a lot less bulk to move so I persisted. Jog and walk. Jog and walk. Thinking of the PBS lady, I added an impromptu mantra to the regime. Breathing in, I’d think, If she can do it, and breathing out, I’d think, so can I. Soon I was like the little engine that could.

By the end of a few months, I was jogging three miles on most weekdays and five or more on the weekends. I lost a whole dress size, and along with it, some of my cravings for fatty foods.

If you think you’re ready to take the plunge into a more enjoyable, less stressful life (and yes—if there’s any doubt about whether you’re healthy enough to exercise, get your doctor’s approval first), here are a few suggestions to make exercise work for you:

  • Choose something fun and easy to get to. Personally, I’d rather be chased by a lion than go to the gym. Gyms involve work. People have trainers and the whole thing seems like another job—with grades. My husband, on the other hand, loves the gym. He can gauge his progress and watch the news while running on the elliptical trainer. And he almost always meets friends there—it’s like a community center. I’d rather hike with our dogs, go for a bike ride, or cross-country ski in season. These activities start at the front door, which saves time and makes it much more likely that I’ll do them.
  • Make exercise a nonnegotiable priority. Putting yourself first means that you write exercise into a specific time slot on your schedule and treat it as an important appointment.
  • Exercise is easier with a buddy, human or four-legged. If someone is waiting, you’re more likely to show up. Furthermore, social support is a proven stress reliever, so exercising with a friend does double duty for your health. The likeliest people to keep their exercise appointments, however, are dog owners. Dog walking more than doubles the average person’s weekly minutes of exercise. The additional walking time burns off an average of 600 calories a week, which adds up to ten pounds a year in weight loss or weight that you don’t put on.

A fitness program takes discipline and continued commitment before it starts to feel as comforting as bad habits like eating junk food, smoking cigarettes, drinking alcohol, or anything else that provides instant gratification but bites you in the backside later. If you keep at it, exercise is habit-forming because the feelings of strength and well-being that result are hard to beat.

About Author
Joan Z. Borysenko Ph.D.
Joan Borysenko, Ph.D., is one of the leading experts on stress, spirituality, and the mind/body connection. She has a doctorate in medical sciences from Harvard Medical School, is a licensed clinical psychologist, and is the co-founder and former dir Continue reading